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Sanitation Measures for Food Processing Facility Pest Management
by Patrick T. Copps, MS, BCE
The arrival of spring can send us into a cleaning frenzy. During spring cleaning, we assess trouble spots in our homes, remove clutter, and sanitize thoroughly. The same concept should apply in your food processing facility, where cleanliness standards aren’t just good practice—they’re required.
While sanitation-related activities must be ongoing, this is the perfect time to re-evaluate your facility’s sanitation and deep-cleaning practices. Pests that may have remained hidden in the winter will surely reveal themselves as the seasons change. Although it’s nearly impossible to keep a large food processing facility completely clean all the time, thorough sanitation is key to preventing pest problems.
Pest management should be top priority year round in food processing facilities, which are particularly sensitive to pest infestations. Your facility hosts several attractants that lure pests in and encourage them to stay. Heat and odor that emanate from your plant draw pests inside. Frequent deliveries from manufacturers require doors and loading bays to stay open for long periods of time, inviting pests to enter.
Various food sources readily available in your facility, such as spillage, finished product, and food left in employee break rooms, can encourage pests. Once pests move inside your building, they are drawn to cracks or crevices, equipment voids, and other difficult-to-clean locations where infestations can easily go unnoticed, making stringent cleaning practices important for your facility.
Educate your staff on pest “hot spots” to look for. Monitor places such as the plant floor, ingredient storage, and waste zones for signs of an infestation.
The appearance of pests such as cockroaches, ants, rodents, and stored product pests may indicate a larger, more costly problem, because infestations can affect your bottom line and the quality of your product. The USDA estimates that rodents cause hundreds of billions of dollars a year in damage and destruction worldwide, and researchers have determined that insect and rodent pests can carry disease-causing organisms like hantavirus, E. coli, and Salmonella. Although these pests may not be in your facility now, the change of seasons can prompt their arrival.
In order to effectively combat pests specific to your facility, you must utilize a complete integrated pest management program. This environmentally friendly process incorporates non-chemical techniques such as sanitation and facility maintenance in order to prevent pest activity. An IPM program is only effective when conducted with the cooperation and assistance of all stakeholders. You must educate your entire staff on the importance of following proper sanitation practices inside and outside of your facility. The following are sanitation best practices that you can implement with your staff to ensure pests stay out.
Inside Your Facility
Educate your staff on pest “hot spots” to look for. Monitor places such as the plant floor, ingredient storage, and waste zones for signs of an infestation. If you find droppings, gnaw marks, or greasy markings along walls, work with your pest management professional to verify and identify the pest activity, and use non-chemical treatments to manage any infestation.
Practice good cleaning habits in common areas such as the break room and locker facilities. Require employees to keep all food in sealed containers—preferably in the refrigerator—and wipe countertops free of crumbs. Disinfect tables and other surfaces that may have lingering debris. Sweep and mop floors regularly, and clean up any spills immediately. If employees have access to lockers, these will require frequent attention. Lockers should be completely cleaned out three to four times per year. Also, employees should be discouraged from keeping food items in lockers. Be aware that infestations found in production areas are often traced to employee common areas.
Pay attention to the processing area. Remove debris and build-up from machinery using an appropriate cleaner that breaks down grease and grime. Look for any moisture leaks from processing lines or fixtures, and make repairs if needed. Monitor and clean drains used to dispose of waste. Accumulations of waste and bio-film provide food for fly larvae.
Outside Your Facility
Place all trash in Dumpsters, and be sure to position them at a distance from the building and have them regularly cleaned and rotated. Eliminate used cardboard cartons or other items that can provide hiding spots for cockroaches, which also feed on the glue that holds boxes together.
Trash receptacles are an instant attraction for pests, because they provide all elements necessary for pest survival. Consider foaming dumpsters with a green cleaner on a frequent basis to remove food waste residues.
Pressure wash the building exterior and sidewalks. Remove any bird droppings, which may carry harmful bacteria. Use appropriate personal protective equipment and take necessary safety precautions when removing these droppings.
Maintain the perimeter of your building by cutting down any shrubbery or trees that touch exterior walls. The branches from this vegetation can create a bridge for pests to enter your facility and offer harborage areas to rodents and other pests. For further protection, install a 12-inch wide gravel strip at the grade-wall junction to eliminate hiding spots around the perimeter.
Check for poor drainage around your facility. This condition can encourage pest activity. Work with maintenance to clear any drains and remove standing water.
Regularly monitor for cracks or holes in exterior walls, and seal openings with weather-resistant sealant. Incorporate copper mesh or another appropriate backing material to keep rodents from gnawing through. It only takes an opening 1/16 of an inch wide for a cockroach to enter a building, while a rodent can enter your facility through a hole the size of a quarter.
By including your employees and pest management professional in your strategy, you can divide and conquer pests with your facility’s IPM program. This will keep your conveyer belts running smoothly and your products tasting great. Remember, when it comes to sanitation at your facility, it’s always the right time of year for a little spring cleaning.
Patrick Copps is technical services manager for Orkin’s Pacific Division. A board-certified entomologist in urban and industrial entomology, he has more than 35 years’ experience in the industry. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit OrkinCommercial.com.